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Why The Van?

I’ve mentioned Cecilia the Van in a couple of posts, and even detailed our maiden voyage with her a few weeks ago, but I haven’t really gone into the details of why we decided on The Van Plan and exactly how we plan to go about it (hint: we’re not 100% sure yet).

“That Sounds Cold

The above quote was my very first reaction to Anna’s suggestion that we get a camper van and carouse around the country for a year. Of course, I selectively do not remember saying this, but I don’t deny it. What can I say, I get cold easily and I don’t like it. I’m a SoCal girl.

team win
We’re a team, on the same page, even when it’s cold!

It didn’t take her long to win me over, however. (She might say it took her ages, but really it took only a few months). All she had to do was show me some cool pictures of converted camper vans driving around in all the beautiful places of our fantastic country and dream out loud about driving around Glacier National Park for an entire summer, and I was in. Totally, 150% in.

Once we were on the same page about the fact that we wanted to live in a van for a year and visit the national parks, it wasn’t long before we were lurking in vandwelling forums (looking at you /r/vandwellers), following van dwellers on Instagram, perusing websites about van conversions, and of course looking at vans on Craigslist.

A Plan Is Hatched

At this point, we still saw our Van Plan as a bit of a pipe dream, but that didn’t stop us from dreaming. Seriously dreaming. Indeed, dreaming about just how much we would be willing and able to spend on a van, how much it would cost to convert it, the pros and cons of purchasing an already-converted van, how much we might expect to spend each month on the road, which route we would take…in short, we got serious about planning without realizing how serious we really were.

After some arguing discussion back and forth, we decided on an overall, all-in budget of $10,000 for the converted van itself, and an upper-limit cost of $1000 per month for life on the road. We hope to spend less than this, but we want to plan to have at least this much on hand in case of unexpected problems. Life is full of them and it’s best to be prepared, especially when you’re wandering the country in a converted camper van.

We also decided on a tentative departure date of Spring 2018, giving each of us at least 2 years at our current jobs and plenty of time to save up for the purchase of the van and to build a nice hefty savings to support us on the road.

We perused sites of other van dwellers and checked out their financials to reality-check our own numbers. We realized that while we would probably be able to live well within our monthly budget, we might be hard-pressed to find a van at the price we wanted. Undeterred, we decided that if we just kept looking at Craigslist, we would certainly find the right van at some point.

Enter Cecilia

It was just another Wednesday at work in late August when my G-chat window pinged with a message from Anna, urging me to check out a Craigslist post. It was a beautiful converted cargo van, retro-blonde with a white pop top. It had everything from a stove and and icebox to a bed and plenty of storage inside. It was a beautiful specimen, already converted, all for $8,000. My heart rate quickened. Could it be? Could this be the one?

cecilia the van
She was too beautiful to pass up.

Anna sent me many messages extolling the virtues of the van, from its retro exterior to its rebuilt engine to its brand new A/C unit. I agreed with every one of them. “Should we call about it?” I asked, fingers trembling.

That evening, we called and set up a time to take a look at it the coming Saturday at an auto mechanic. We decided we would look at it and have it checked out with a pre-buy inspection all at once. We were giddy. We couldn’t believe it. We were actually going to go look at a van.

I’ll be honest, I really didn’t think we would find the perfect van so quickly, and so early in our search. But there she was, beautiful, already converted, within our budget, and ready to go with only some slight modifications.

On our way to go see her on that fateful Saturday, we were listening to Simon and Garfunkel and suddenly realized her name would have to be Cecilia. It was perfect. It felt too good to be true, and we were half-expecting/hoping the mechanics would say “Nope, no good, this van is a lemon.”

It was not so. She checked out perfectly from the mechanics, with flying colors – in fact the mechanics were nearly drooling over her, as she was a 1975 model and they had rarely seen such a vintage vehicle in such prime condition.

Obviously, we took the plunge. Two weeks later, we left the AAA parking lot, some friends along for support and for the fun of it, in our new camper van.

champagne for cecilia

Not All Butterflies and Daisies

Of course, things haven’t been perfectly smooth in our Van Plan since we purchased Cecilia. As I detailed in my post about our first trip together, she doesn’t always want to start when we want her to start. She’s an older lady and she has her opinions about things.

She also probably needs new seats and seat belts for safety reasons, and we certainly need to revamp the bed situation. Then there is the flooring (carpet right now, not ideal for keeping clean on the road) to think about, and numerous other small details and decisions to make.

Besides the physical considerations of the van, we have our schedule and finances to figure out. Shortly after purchasing Cecilia we entered the holiday season, full of travel, gifting, carousing with family and general non-frugal behavior (sorry! sorry!), which meant that our savings for the trip are not as robust as we would like yet.

That being said, we still have a solid year before we wanted to set out and I am confident we can get to our minimum goal of $12,000 saved before then. Ideally, we would not have to touch those savings – we would like to find remote working situations and a thrifty enough van-living style to allow us to earn what we need on the road. But, Anna worries about being caught in a lurch, which is reasonable, so we have that minimum set for before we commence the trip.

But Really, Why Do It?

There are so many reasons we want to do the van trip, but I’ll try to distill it all here:

  • We both love the outdoors, camping, and hiking, but feel we never get quite enough of it on weekend trips. Why not live in the outdoors?
  • We both feel like we haven’t seen enough of our national parks, and many of them are 1) far away and 2) gigantic, so we feel that living on the road will give us the best chance to really explore them.
  • We both have traveled abroad extensively but not much in our own country, and we want to remedy that.
  • We aren’t 100% sure about where we want to settle down, but we know it’s not going to be in the Big Bad City (any of them). We hope we might find some hidden gems of towns and countryside that will capture our hearts.
  • If we want to roam around and live small, this is the time for us to do it. We have no mortgage, no car payments, no children, not even any pets. We are both young and healthy and can handle sleeping in a camper-van bed for a year.
  • We want to experience freedom from the Monday through Friday grind.
  • We want the mountains to be our backyard, and our backyard to be constantly changing.
  • We want to meet other wanderers on the road.
  • Etc, etc, etc – I could go on forever.

In general we have the itch to explore and live more or less outside, like dirtbags, for a little while before we settle down and do Adult Things. Or perhaps we never will settle down, who knows. All we know is that now, more than pretty much anything, we feel like exploring our fabulous country and seeing all of its beautiful natural nooks and crannies.

The view at the beach on our first trip with Cecilia.

I’ll be updating our progress toward our goal of a Spring 2018 departure here. Stay tuned, Cecilia fans!

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4 Comments

  1. I adore every single thing about this! I traveled by road a lot Before Kiddo and, although I was in an ’83 Chevy Cavalier instead of the ’65 split-window microbus I wanted, it was such a fantastic catalyst for being able to really BE in the local culture of wherever I was.

    Congrats on the addition to your family! Her name is perfect 🙂

    • Flo Flo

      Thank you! That’s awesome that you lived on the road for a bit, too. Where were some of your favorite places? I’ve been to a lot of places on the East and West coasts and to Austin, TX but pretty much nowhere in between. There’s so much to see!

      • I agree about there being so much to explore — I’ve probably seen less than 2% of this country, and we have a range of cultures more diverse than most continents.

        At the time I was mostly in the PNW, BC and Idaho, heh. And I still didn’t get to 80% of the hikes I wanted to do! The North Cascades and coastal BC/Vancouver Island are absolutely beautiful in early summer.

        The only trip I made eastward went through Minneapolis with my then-beau, and we fell in love with the diversity of the city, so now I have a new base camp in equal proximity to the corners of North America 🙂

        • Flo Flo

          That’s amazing, I would LOVE to visit the Cascades and Vancouver Island. Those places are definitely on our to-go list! We are toying with the idea of eventually moving up to the PNW anyway, so we want to make sure we drive around up there extensively!

          It’s interesting you mention Minneapolis being great; I’ve never been and never really considered it, but you’re maybe the third person in as many weeks that has mentioned what a cool city it is. We will absolutely put that city on our list as well!

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